Yunnan Lakes & Streams

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Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / Caroline LIOU

About the Area

Yunnan, means "Beautiful Clouds in the South". It has mountain ranges and glaciers that are snow-capped all year round, deep virgin forests, lakes and hot springs, alpine landscapes, precipitous valleys, beautiful farmlands, mountain rivers and valley streams, floral splendor that blooms throughout the year, and vast skies with amazing clouds.

The Yunnan Lakes and Streams ecoregion comprises several large, freshwater lakes situated on the Yunnan Plateau that has an average elevation of about 6,562 feet (2,000 m).

The lakes occur in deep grabens and trenches created by faulting of adjacent mountains, although they themselves are not necessarily deep as they have filled partially with alluvial sediments over time. These plateau lakes support some of the most diverse freshwater ecosystems in the entire country. For example, both Dianchi and Er Hai contain rich fish faunas and despite their location in separate river basins (Yangtze and Mekong, respectively), taxonomic similarities exceed differences.
Size:
158,500 sq. km (61,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:

Small Lakes

Geographic Location:

Southern Asia: China

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Dianchi historically supported 25 native fish species of which 11 are endemic (all but 2 are apparently extinct), and Er Hai supported 17 native fish species of which 9 are endemic. Other endemics in this ecoregion include aquatic plants, invertebrates, and amphibians.

Much of the plateau is built of limestone that has eroded over thousands of years to form underground caverns where at least 14 cave fishes live. Unique species found in this ecoregion include the Yunnan firebelly newt, Shanjing crocodile newt, and the Bubble fish (the fish that inflates itself with air as a defense against predators).

Other species of interest include the Chinese giant salamander (largest salamander in the world, lives only in China and can grow to be more than 63 inches long), and the Ailao spiny toad that has 10 to16 large black spines sticking out from its upper lip, and because of this locals call it "the mustached frog." Numerous endemic fish species in the genera Cyprinus, Schizothorax, Anabarilius, and Yunnanilus occur in this ecoregion. Several lakes historically contained faunas with over half their fish species endemic.

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Urs WOY
Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus) drawing.
© WWF-Canon / Urs WOY
Chinese giant salamander

These giant salamanders are about 55 pounds and five feet long. Brown and black skin helps them blend in with the mud, stones, and plants of the streambeds where they live. Their broad, flattened bodies are streamlined for swimming at the bottom of fast-moving water.

Giant salamanders are covered in mucus, which protects their bodies from abrasions and parasites. When irritated or grasped, they produce a milky, sticky secretion that smells like Japanese peppers. The giant salamander absorbs oxygen through its skin. Loose folds of skin along its sides increase surface area to help absorb even more oxygen.

With their tiny eyes, giant salamanders have poor vision. Instead, they rely on their other senses—such as sensory organs along their bodies and on their heads—to detect other animals and find their way. They eat almost anything they can, from insects to fish to mice to small invertebrates like crabs. Giant salamanders have a very slow metabolism, and go weeks without eating, if necessary.

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Threats
These lakes are found in one of only two remaining subtropical forests in China on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Threats come from deforestation and destruction of habitat, silt and fertiliser runoff from intensive rice agriculture, pollution, human and industrial waste disposal, aquaculture, and fisheries. Lake Dianchi, which has lost most of its endemic fish species, is an example of a lake that has suffered heavily from sewage, industrial pollutants, and introduced species.
WWF’s work
WWF China calls for continued conservation of Three Parallel Rivers new World Heritage site
11 Jul 2003
Beijing, China - WWF welcomes the recent announcement of the Three Parallel Rivers Region in Southwest China's Yunnan province as a new UNESCO World Heritage site and calls for the continued conservation of this fragile area.

WWF is working to conserve the area through education programs, community development, and watershed management. WWF’s ‘Promoting International Cooperation on River Basin Management for the Amur and Mekong Rivers’ project seeks to engage the Chinese government and other key stakeholders on integrated river basin management in the Mekong River.

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